meta-scriptPhotographer Kate Simon Details Her Time With Reggae's Greats & How Bob Marley Was "Completely Possessed By The Music" |
Photographer Kate Simon Details Her Time With Reggae's Greats & How Bob Marley Was "Completely Possessed By The Music"
Inside 'Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae'

Photos: Kate Simon


Photographer Kate Simon Details Her Time With Reggae's Greats & How Bob Marley Was "Completely Possessed By The Music"

'Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae,' a long out-of-print photobook detailing the performances and creative impulses of Bob Marley and other reggae giants was rereleased on Nov. 7. Photographer Kate Simon shares stories behind several of her images.

GRAMMYs/Nov 7, 2023 - 02:11 pm

In the 1970s, Kate Simon was an American rock photographer living in London, living what must have been an incredibly glamorous — or at least incredibly cool — life. She shot the titans of UK rock, working with everyone from Rod Stewart and Queen, to Led Zeppelin and the Who

With such a resume, one might assume that Simon would be hard to impress. But that was far from the reality — Simon was awestruck by Bob Marley and the Wailers' performance at London's Lyceum theater in 1975. 

"That's when I was really blown away by reggae. That was the beginning," Simon recalls. The show was also the beginning of a photographic relationship with reggae music; Simon photographed Marley and other reggae luminaries on stage and behind the scenes until 1980. Among her many works is the cover for Marley's 1978 record, Kaya

Simons' significant archive is featured in the photobook Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae. Originally published in 2004 in a limited run of 500 copies, Rebel Music Simon's photos and stories from 24 contributors, including Chris Blackwell, Lenny Kravitz, Keith Richards, Paul Simon, Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen. A new edition via Genesis Publications, which is available Nov. 7 in a larger run, includes additional never-before-seen photos and additional stories.

"Look at these pictures of these guys — forget that I took them — that was such an amazing time for music," Simon reflects. "How mystical and beyond belief was this music? It was just so special."

In celebration of the release, Simon spoke with about several of the crucial images from Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae. Read on for eight things Simon shared about photographing Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Peter Tosh and others.

All images copyright Kate Simon

Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae book cover

Bob Marley Was A Particularly Humble Superstar

Kate Simon first met Marley in 1975, backstage at his now-infamous string of shows at the Lyceum Theater in London; her friend Aninha Capaldi was married to a member of the band Traffic, who was friends with Chris Blackwell of Island Records. 

"We had an instant kind of rapport," Simon recalls. "Bob was completely charming, and just delightful. Just friendly, just lovely. Really willing to be photographed."

Marley also had a different personality than many of his contemporaries. Simon describes him as a down-to-earth, humble musician whose personality on and off stage lacked any traditional rock star quality. Marley wore the same denim long-sleeved shirt, jeans and jacket for the entire European tour, she recalls, and never had "minders" as some other acts might have.

"He didn't have anybody surrounding him and distancing him from other people. He was very self reliant and very bold," Simon reflects. "I think he was very present and very self aware…reflective and intelligent."

Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae Bob Marley Lyceum theater

The Lyceum Shows Were A "Watershed Moment" For Reggae

Although Marley and the Wailers had broken through to the international market with 1973's Catch A Fire, his 1975 run of shows — and, particularly, the two gigs at the Lyceum Theatre in July — were a "watershed moment" for the band and reggae as a whole, Simon asserts.

The Wailers' booker had a policy of booking the group at venues much too small for their growing following, Rebel Music details, and there were regularly hundreds of fans who were unable to get inside. In the book, reggae documentarian Roger Steffens describes the vibe outside of the Lyceum shows as "bedlam" and 1975 as "the year that [Marley] became an international star."

Those who were lucky enough to get inside the Lyceum were packed tight to watch Marley, drummer Carlton Barrett, bassist "Family Man" Barrett, guitarist Al Anderson, and backing vocalists the I-Threes. "The band was so tight, and they were ready and there was such an enthusiastic crowd," Simon recalls.

Simon further described the performance in Rebel Music: "It was shocking. The beauty of his voice; the brilliance of his band; the hypnotic power of the music. For me, it was a calling to reggae. I wasn't prepared for it."

The two Lyceum shows became a live album, Live!, released on Island Records that same year.

Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae bob marley denim

Bob Marley Was A Great Photo Subject — But He Took Coaching

Taken during the Exodus tour in 1977, the above photo has never been published before. Simons explains that Marley was a great photo subject, though shooting him during performances could be difficult because "he never stops running" around on stage. Still, that movement helped her capture "whirling dread shots." 

While Marley was keen to be photographed live and offstage, Simon did offer some advice: 

"He was completely possessed by the music. I just remember telling him 'Bob, you gotta open your eyes more, because your eyes are always closed.' He's meditating in the music," she says with a laugh. "I could be being egoistic, but I noticed him opening his eyes a little bit more, especially when he sang the phrase 'open your eyes and look within.'" 

Takeaways from Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae book layout

Bob Marley Was Part Of The "Mount Rushmore Of Reggae"

Although they weren't with Marley during his 1975 tour, the original Wailers — Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh — had been performing together since 1963. Recently an independent nation, ska was the freedom sound of Jamaican music at the time and the trio first topped the charts singing "Simmer Down" with legendary group the Skatalites. 

Although their sound would change significantly over the years both as a group and as solo acts, Tosh, Wailer and Marley remained titans in the field — "the Mount Rushmore of reggae music," as Simon suggests, "the three major songwriters and singers of the original Wailers." 

Bunny Wailer would go on to win three GRAMMY Awards, one for Best Reggae Recording (Time Will Tell - A Tribute To Bob Marley) and two for Best Reggae Album (Crucial! Roots Classics, Hall Of Fame - A Tribute To Bob Marley's 50th Anniversary). Tosh took home a golden gramophone at the 1998 GRAMMYs for his song "No Nuclear War." 

\Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae Bunny Wailer

Bunny Wailer Was Less Amenable To Photographers 

Simon and a few journalists had traveled to Jamaica to interview Bunny Wailer on the occasion of his new record, 1976’s Blackheart Man, which featured reggae classics like "Dreamland" and many of the best musicians in Jamaica.

"Bunny Wailer was really revered on the island and in regard to roots rock reggae music," Simon notes. "He has one of the most beautiful singing voices I've ever heard. I think he's a great songwriter." 

Yet speaking to the man was no easy task. Wailer made the group wait for about seven days before arriving at producer and singer Tommy Cowan's house in Kingston. 

"[Bunny] took his time, but when he showed up, I got two and a half of the best rolls of film I ever shot in black and white, and then I got a better roll in color," Simon says. 

Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh Could Control The Weather…At Least One Time

Simon interviewed Tosh in Kingston in 1976, around the time of the release of his song "Legalize It."

"I had been told that Peter had this kind of serious vibe," Simon recalls of the session. "He had this beautiful speaking voice, and he's wearing that ‘Legalize it’ pin on his hat. He was doing all these karate moves. He was really a great photo subject." 

In the middle of the shoot, lightning struck. "And he said, 'Jah Rasfafari. You hear that? I made that happen.' I was like, 'uh-huh, ok.' Who am I to know? That was kind of like this entrée to Jamaicanisms that I was going to hear the whole time I was down there." 

Rebel Music: Bob Marley & Roots Reggae Lee Scratch Perry Black Ark

Lee "Scratch" Perry Was A Major Influence On Reggae, And Bob Marley In Particular

Behind the scenes, GRAMMY-winning producer Lee "Scratch" Perry was shaping the sound of reggae music. From his home studio in Kingston, the Black Ark, Perry invented dub music — a forebearer of all modern electronic music that utilizes the mixing board as an instrument. Recalls Simon: "Everybody went to [Perry's] studio, and he was really a genius. I loved photographing him."

Perry worked with Marley, Bunny and Tosh, Sly & Robbie, and many other notable artists. "He really had such an impact on everybody doing music at the time," Simon adds. "He sort of got a reputation for being kind of eccentric, but I saw it; he was really brilliant. How he influenced Bob Marley was really significant. I've read that [Scratch] helped Bob in the beginning, and that Bob lived in his studio or something like that. He certainly helped the early Wailers; he produced some of their earliest tracks."

When Simon took the above photograph, the producer was working with the Heptones and the Congos. Eventually, Perry made Simon's photo into a painted mural on the side of the Black Ark.

Bob Marley's Success Wasn't Expected, But It's Unsurprising

By the time Marley and the Wailers were on their Exodus tour in 1977 (Simon was the photographer during the tour's European leg), the group had already released Exodus, Catch A Fire, Burnin', Rastaman Vibration, Natty Dread — all by the time he was 32 years old. 

"That's an astounding amount of art," Simon says. 

As a Rastafarian, Bob Marley operated with a set of spiritual beliefs that also permeated his music; Simon found his perspective and attitude appealing. "It really is similar to the perspective that I like to work with and live by," she says. "I think that Bob's music was about interdependence. 'When the rain fall/ it don't fall on one man's house.'"

The global impact of Marley's music and message — as well as the long-lasting popularity of reggae music as a whole — was far from foretold. "But am I surprised? Not even slightly," Simon reflects. "Over 40 years later, why do I want to put a book out about Bob? Why do I listen to Bob Marley if I had my choice, more than anyone else? There's something about this music that is eternal.

"And I think the only one who knew that was Bob," Simon adds, referencing a 1979 interview where Marley described wealth as "life forever." Indeed, the music of Bob Marley and his contemporaries is timeless and a high watermark in reggae music. 

"You go around the world [and see images of] Bob Marley, John Lennon and Che Guevara," Simon says. "I think that Bob will continue to be, you know, loved and be an inspiration most importantly, and he'll I think he'll, he'll get bigger and bigger. He's forever."

Living Legends: Burning Spear On New Album, 'No Destroyer' & Taking Control Of His Music

Living Legends: Stephen Marley On 'Old Soul,' Being A Role Model & The Bob Marley Biopic
Stephen Marley

Photo by Stephen Lashbrook


Living Legends: Stephen Marley On 'Old Soul,' Being A Role Model & The Bob Marley Biopic

On his new album of covers and originals, Stephen Marley recruited Bob Weir, Jack Johnson, Eric Clapton, and his own siblings. Marley spoke with about his multifaceted career, including supervising music for 'Bob Marley: One Love.'

GRAMMYs/Nov 30, 2023 - 09:22 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music who are still going strong today. This week, spoke with eight-time GRAMMY winner Stephen Marley. The reggae multi-hyphenate is the youngest son of Bob and Rita Marley.

Stephen Marley is a reggae Renaissance man. An eight-time GRAMMY winning singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Stephen's nuanced releases retain an authentic Jamaican identity while organically incorporating a broad range of influences. His latest album, Old Soul, continues this boundary-blurring trajectory.

Primarily recorded during the pandemic inside a garage on a family farm in Florida, Old Soul brings renewed luster to reggae classics and standards by the Beatles, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra alongside stunning originals, each delivered with Stephen's warm rasp. It's an endearing and eclectic acoustic set, awash in filigreed guitar strums, tinkling piano keys, swirling flutes, and mesmerizing percussion patterns.

Old Soul’s reflective title track honors Stephen's musical inspirations — especially his father: "Fast forward to 1981, my dad moved on and so did I, inside I kept his songs alive, so they say I’m an old soul, tribute to the ones who made it all possible/inside me your legacy lives on." Meanwhile, "Cool As The Breeze" offers a heartrending tribute to loved ones lost.

Stephen continues to build upon his own esteemed legacy. The youngest son of Bob and Rita Marley, the 51-year-old's musical journey commenced at age 6 when he formed the Melody Makers with his older siblings, sisters Cedella and Sharon and brother Ziggy, the group’s leader. Rita managed the Melody Makers and Bob wrote their first single, 1979's "Children Playing in the Streets." In 1981 the spotlight shone on Stephen's precocious talents when he took the lead on "Sugar Pie."

A guitarist, percussionist, vocalist and songwriter with the Melody Makers, Stephen also assisted in the production of each of their albums including the GRAMMY winning Conscious Party (1989), One Bright Day (1990) and Fallen Is Babylon (1997). He went on to helm the production on projects by several Marley family members including youngest brother Damian’s GRAMMY winning albums Halfway Tree and the influential blockbuster Welcome To Jamrock.

Stephen’s long-awaited, self-produced debut solo album, the multi-genre spanning Mind Control arrived in early 2007 followed in late 2008 by the stripped-down Mind Control Acoustic — both GRAMMY recipients. Stephen dropped another GRAMMY winner, Revelation Part I The Root of Life as a celebration of roots rock reggae, in 2011. Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life, released five years later, incorporates various styles that have emanated from reggae's core. 

Old Soul is Stephen’s first full-length project since 2016 and he’s recruited an outstanding cast of collaborators including Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir, singer/songwriter Jack Johnson, rock-reggae outfit Slightly Stoopid, his brothers Ziggy and Damian and Eric Clapton, whose bold, bluesy guitar riffs color Bob’s "I Shot the Sheriff," became a No. 1 hit for Clapton in 1974. recently spoke to Stephen Marley about his illustrious, multi-faceted career including his most recent role as music supervisor for the upcoming Marley biopic, Bob Marley: One Love, due in theaters on Feb. 14.

Please tell me about the process of recording the Old Soul album.

It was during the thick of COVID-19; the walls were closing in so to speak. My uncle said "we need a farm" because we didn’t know what the next day would bring in terms of the control the government had. So, we looked and found a little farm. 

During that time, I was very much distracted [with regards to making music], but when we came down to the farm, it was nature, escape and I caught back a groove. Old Soul wasn’t what we set out to do, but because of the circumstances, we started jamming in the garage and, well, it felt good, so we said, let’s give the people something to soothe them

The choices of cover versions on Old Soul are fascinating. How did you decide which songs you would cover?

"Don’t Let Me Down" was suggested by [producer] Salaam Remi, he thought that song would fit in the acoustic style. I know that song from sister Marcia [Griffiths], she did an old version of it; I didn’t really know it was a Beatles tune. [Laughs.]

Most of the others are songs that I play in solitude or just go to songs like "Georgia On My Mind" or "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)." It was just part of getting back in the groove, with songs I would sing anyway. I love those songs; it doesn’t matter where they come from.

You also cover reggae classics. "Thanks We Get (Do Fi Dem)" featuring Buju Banton, is a Lee "Scratch" Perry composition initially recorded with his band the Upsetters in 1970. When was the first time you heard that song?

I first heard that song from Reggie [Upsetters’ guitarist Alva "Reggie" Lewis] singing it to me; I had never heard the record.

Reggie is one of the persons credited with teaching my father how to play guitar. This man lived among us, he was always at the [Bob Marley] museum, at [the Marley family-owned] Tuff Gong [studios] and at one point, he stayed at my house, too. He was always singing, "look what we do fi dem, this is the thanks we get, what an ungrateful set," that’s how I knew it; I never listened to the record until I was going to record it; that’s when I discovered that Scratch wrote it.

"There’s A Reward" is a poignant, motivational song, written by Wailers mentor Joe Higgs, who taught Bob, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh how to harmonize. Can you share some of your memories of interacting with Joe Higgs over the years?

From child to young adult until him move on [Higgs passed away in 1999], he was always encouraging. I vividly remember those days when he would come and see my dad. He was like an uncle, he always showed love and encouragement. 

Doing that song was definitely one of the highlights of the album for me and Ziggy as well but I really didn’t know the song before recording the album. It really moved me, and I heard the similarities between him and Bob, so I said, yeah, I have to record that one.

Old Soul’s title track was originally written by Jamaican singer/songwriter OMI. What changes did you make to the song’s lyrics?

The song, as he wrote it, was pretty similar to what’s on the album, but it never had my birth year in it, when I graduated, all of those facts. In that sense, I put my life into it, but it already had Bob and Peter in the lyrics ("I knew every Nesta Marley line/You knew that Peter Tosh was fly, in diamond socks and corduroy"). 

OMI is a great songwriter, and the song was about people who influenced him, "tribute to the ones who made it possible," so he was already paying homage.

Your song "Let The Children Play" on Old Soul references the Melody Makers’ first single "Children Playing In The Streets." What are some of your fondest memories of your years with the Melody Makers?

It is such a significant part of our lives, so any memory puts a smile on our faces. One of my fondest memories is, there’s a place in Half Way Tree in Kingston called Skateland and every Saturday we would perform there. One Saturday, our dad came and watched us, and we didn’t know he was there until after.  He wrote our first song, he was pretty into us. He wasn’t a man that would tell you too much, but he would tell his friends, "Yeah, them youth go on good," he was very proud of us. 

The integrity that goes into our music has never changed. From the time we were kids singing "Children Playing in the Streets," we were always singing social songs, meaningful music. I am 51 now, so do the math.

As the music supervisor of the upcoming Bob Marley: One Love biopic, do you choose which songs are used or how they are used in the film?

I don’t choose alone in that sense. The movie is set in a time period, it’s not Bob’s whole life. There are scenes where he is remembering, and you see him when he is young, but the movie focuses on the Smile Jamaica concert (Dec. 5, 1976), the One Love Peace Concert (April 22, 1978) and the songs he was working on in those times. Anything to do with the music in the film runs through me.

I just came back from California to finish up some of the music. We did the music before the actual filming. What you will be hearing has to coincide with what you are seeing; like the live concerts, if the drummer hits the drum, you have to hear the beat at the same time. Some of the music was re-recorded for the film. Like "Smile Jamaica" is a live recording so we had to do some live overdubbing for the quality and the experience in the theater. It has been a great learning experience for me as well.

You produced the Celebrating Nina: A Reggae Tribute To Nina Simone EP featuring exclusively female artists, released in 2022; Nina Simone is an artist that you enjoy listening to. Who are some of the other artists you listen to when you have time to relax?

I listen to Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown. When I was 17, 18, those were the songs that played in my car. As far as our music, people like Toots, Burning Spear, Culture, Steel Pulse — all of those elders were great, and are still great musicians.

Your 1999 production Chant Down Babylon paired rappers with your father’s vocals on hip-hop renditions of his classic songs, such as the Roots on "Burnin’ and Lootin,’" Chuck D on "Survival a.k.a. Black Survivors." Was the album successful in terms of better acquainting the hip-hop community with your dad’s music?

It very much accomplished what I set out to do, especially with the young artists at that time. Lauryn Hill was a staple. I have a lot of testimonies from people about that. People discovered Bob’s "Turn Your Lights Down Low" because Lauryn was on the track.

Have you considered doing an updated version of Chant Down Babylon?

It’s funny you bring this up because Cedella [Cedella Marley, CEO, Bob Marley Group of Companies] just asked me if I can bring it together for Bob’s 80th birthday.  It’s too early for details but definitely Chant Down Babylon 2 is on the table.

Damian’s 2004 single "Welcome to Jamrock" won a GRAMMY for Best Alternative Hip-Hop Performance, to date, he’s the only Jamaican artist to be so honored. The single was praised for its gritty lyrics depicting the politically divisive violence in Kingston’s poorest communities, while your production merged hip-hop percussion with swaggering reggae and influenced Jamaican artists including Chronixx, Protoje, and Koffee. How does it feel to have had such a profound impact on a younger generation of artists?

It is a great feeling to have your music recognized. I had the privilege of being around great musicians and engineers, the best of the best, so it is really passing down those lessons, showing what I’ve learned. To influence the youths coming up is a really great feeling but at the same time, I take it as a "we" thing, more than "I" did this.

Did you delay the release of your debut album Mind Control until 2007 because of the success of Welcome to Jamrock?

Yes. At the time, I was kind of conflicted: Did I want to stick to producing or become a solo artist, so to speak? Being in the Melody Makers from age 7 to then having kids and still being in the Melody Makers, I had to get used to it being about Steve.

So, I decided to put time aside and focus on my record, but it was very important to me to first make sure Damian, my youngest brother, was good. We are very close and if him was alright, then I can focus on myself. Before Mind Control, I put out a teaser, Got Music? "Winding Roads" was on that, but it didn’t make the album.

"Winding Roads" fits in beautifully on Old Soul.

Yes, that’s why I always tell my children that music is a timeless thing so don’t give up on any inspiration or creation.

How did Jack Johnson and Bob Weir come to be featured on "Winding Roads"?
My manager always liked the song, and he has a relationship with them. Bob Weir and Jack heard the song and were willing to be a part of it. I went to Bob’s studio, he is a great man, and a true musician. We did a few jams, but "Winding Roads" was the one he gravitated towards.

You released Revelation Part I: The Root of Life in 2011 — which included the anthem "Jah Army" — as a showcase of the revolutionary sentiments and musical excellence intrinsic to reggae. At that time, those standards were overshadowed by the widespread criticism of X-rated lyrics in some dancehall hits. In the 12 years since, have you seen any significant progress in quality Jamaican reggae receiving the recognition it deserves?

I do see a difference. As you mentioned, the youths them that rise up — Chronixx, Protoje, etc. — The Root of Life was a calling for that generation. Over the past 12 years, technology has progressed, social media, how people put products out there now is really different….The quality music is there but you really have to search for it because there are so many distractions.

That was one of the reasons for making the Old Soul record; it wasn’t a reggae album so to speak, but our Jamaican spirit is in the music. When people hear it, it shifts their meditation, appealing to a part of them that is kind of suppressed because of all of the distractions that are going on.

Living Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation

Living Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation
Marcia Griffiths


Living Legends: Reggae Great Marcia Griffiths Looks Back On Her 60-Year Legacy, Working With Bob Marley & Inspiring The Next Generation

In a career-spanning interview, iconic singer Marcia Griffiths spoke with about her impressive run of solo releases and many years spent singing with Bob Marley as a member of vocal trio the I-Threes.

GRAMMYs/Jul 10, 2023 - 06:45 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with reggae singer Marcia Griffiths, whose voice can be heard on seminal recordings from the '60s and '70s. Griffiths continues to perform today, and will headline Celebrate Brooklyn! In July.

Singer Marcia Griffiths believes her life has been preordained. "When I was a younger girl, I used to pray that I could be of service to mankind," she says.

It seems as if her prayers were answered: Her sweet voice caught the ear of a neighborhood singer as a young teen, and she soon launched her career at Jamaica's equivalent of Motown Records. Griffiths later met Jamaica’s biggest musical legend and sang on some of his most popular recordings. Her solo releases remain indelible works in the reggae canon, and have remained a constant on turntables the world over for nearly 60 years.

"God could not have chosen a better position for me. I can stay in one place and send my voice to the four corners of the world and touch souls," she tells "I had no vision of this — that I would’ve lasted 60 years down the road."

Now 73, Griffiths is a reggae icon whose career highlights include numerous solo records, over 50 collaborations with singers such as Shaggy and Buju Banton, and seven years spent in the I-Threes — a trio consisting of Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley, which sang with Bob Marley until he died. 

Yet her career had auspicious beginnings. At the behest of her neighbor, Marcia entered a neighborhood talent competition. She easily won, and soon began to perform with ska group Bryon Lee and the Dragonaires. Not too long after, not one but two label heads offered her a contract — she decided to sign up with the legendary Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and his Studio One label in 1964.

Dodd "gave me the baton and I just ran with it," Griffiths recalls, adding that in the '60s, "We were so sincere in what we were doing….We just wanted to sing our hearts out."

From there, Marcia Griffiths worked with a who’s-who of Jamaican music in the 1960s and ‘70s: Marley, Bob Andy, legendary producer Sonia Pottinger, Lloyd Charmers, and many others. Griffiths' first solo hit, 1967’s "Feel Like Jumping," established her as a force in rocksteady and the burgeoning reggae scene. Her 1982 single "Electric Boogie" is credited with the birth of the electric slide dance in America; in 2005, her legacy was honored by fellow reggae icons Toots and the Maytals' on their GRAMMY-winning album, True Love. Griffiths also received a nomination for Best Reggae Album at the 63rd GRAMMYs for her work on the WailersOne World.To date, she's released 16 albums, and hints that her 17th will be completed by the end of the summer.

Griffiths continues to perform and record today, her voice sweet and nice as ever. Ahead of a performance at the Celebrate Brooklyn! festival on July 15, Marcia Griffiths spoke with about finding her power, working with Bob Marley, and the importance of creating uplifting reggae music.

The beginnings of your career in reggae are legendary. Yet to walk into Studio One at such a young age — a place with a lot of older men, and likely some very serious people — was probably very intimidating.

Oh yes. And don't forget, we're talking about a male-dominated business. That's where I met Sister Rita and the Soulettes. I met Bob Marley there, Ken Boothe, the Heptones — just about everyone. I see Studio One as Jamaica's Motown. All the greats, that's where we all graduated. That was the place to be.

It was a little uncomfortable for me as a young girl going in and seeing all these people that I've just been hearing on the radio. So it was really overwhelming. And of course, my father had to be everywhere that I was at the time.

I recorded a song, a ballad called "Wall of Love" that was never released up until this day. This song was written by a friend of mine, he lived in Hannah Town [in Kingston], where I'm from originally. I used to just do the harmonies on the song while he was playing his guitar. So when I called him to come up to Studio One, [my friend] was shocked because he had never seen a studio or been close to any studio. 

I never had any nervousness, any part of me; he was the one who got cold feet. So he ended up not even coming in the studio. I'll never forget, [organist] Jackie Mittoo said, "Little girl, you know the song? And I said, "Yes." And I sung the song and the music starts to catch a chord and I ended up recording that song all by myself.

I met Bob Andy at a rehearsal in a group called the Paragons and we became very close friends. Then he wrote songs for me like "Feel Like Jumping," "Tell Me Now," "Melody Life," "Mark My Words," "Truly." All those Studio One songs were during the decade of the '60s. And my first hit song was in 1967, "Feel Like Jumping." 

I love that song. It still feels so fresh and enthusiastic. Do you remember recording that one?

In those days when you're recording a song, it's just two tracks. So the voice and the music goes on one side. Other artists like Bunny Wailer would sing harmonies when I and Bob Andy were recording. And the Heptones — it was like a family affair.

It was like a togetherness and so much love. And innocence. So much was invested in all of these songs, and that's one of the reasons why these songs have such longevity and they can be played years down the road as golden oldies — we were so sincere in what we're doing. We were genuine. We just wanted to sing our hearts out. All the good ingredients are invested in all of these songs.

And that's one of the reasons why we're still talking today. At the time, did you have a sense that you were recording, that you were making music that was so enduring?

I came to understand more that to have a God-given talent was something very special. And when I read the Bible, I see where God calls upon singers and players of instruments. We are the ones who can take the music to the four corners of the earth. And true music comes in message to teach, to educate, and to uplift and unite the world. We cannot live without food and music.

When I met Bob Marley, I still had no vision that I would end up working with this man. He was the one who opened my eyes. When I started performing with him and recording with him,  I saw how serious this man took his music. I've never seen anything like this in my life. Right there and then, I said to myself, This is a responsibility that we have, and we have to be careful of the message that we are sending.

Because he was so sincere and dedicated to doing what he was doing that he never cared about money or anything. I realized the position that I was in was much deeper than I thought; it wasn't just entertainment and you go on stage and sing and dance. 

It certainly comes through in your music and, obviously, in Bob Marley's as well. Do you have a powerful memory about performing with him as a member of the I-Threes?

I am happy that I gave him flowers while he was alive, because I knew that this man was very, very special before anything happened. I have never seen anyone so unique and sincere. 

When we went to Zimbabwe and everyone, including us, ran for our lives, that man stood on stage and he was ready to die or to go down with his people. [Editor’s note: Bob Marley performed during the newly formed Zimbabwe’s Independence Day in 1980, and police fired teargas into the stadium.]

I realized then that he was not a person that was just preaching, he was practicing what he preached. Because he wasn't going anywhere; he was ready to go down with his people. So all of this showed me who this man was.

But what stood out in my mind more than anything else is, I was on tour, and I was maybe about seven months pregnant. We were doing "Lively Up Yourself" — and we have a lot of activity in that song, dancing up a storm — and immediately after the song was finished, I just saw dark coming towards me. Some little things twinkling before my eyes, and I knew that I was about to pass out.

So I held onto Sister Rita's dress and I was trying to beckon to her that I was going to faint. Out of nowhere I felt an arm around my shoulders, and it was Bob. And it is not that he saw something happening. He led me away from Rita and Judy slowly while he was there with the microphone, and he was doing ad libs about mothers and children all over the world. And I was instantly rejuvenated.

I didn't take it lightly. It was something very special. And the whole thing was just the works of God; I cannot merit it to anything else. So that is something that always stands out in my mind with being on that journey with the band. 

Is it true that you recorded all of the backup vocals on Exodus?

It was just Rita and myself that went to England; I think Judy was having one of her babies at the time. But a couple of nights Rita was not available and I went in and I did a lot of the tracks. Actually, we ended up with two albums from that trip: Kaya and Exodus.

Some nights when I'm there by myself, I would do my part, I do Sister Rita's part, do Sister Judy's part, and then I do another fourth harmony because Bob usually liked high harmonies.

So whatever it is that I'm doing, it was never like a strain or work. It was always something that I'm enjoying. And Bob was so unique that some of the ideas that he would come up with that we would sing, they were just one of a kind. Definitely on another level.

Exodus is such a seminal album as well. When you were in the studio, do you recall feeling anything special about the work that you were all doing together?

Oh yes, because at the time I think Bob had been going through a whole lot of changes. This all happened after the shooting and everything. So he was more in depth. He was hurting, and everything that was coming out of him was so real. It's always real, but this time it was with a whole lot of emotion. 

So I could feel every moment that he invested, even when we were there at night doing anything at all. I remember Tyrone [Downie]. [Aston Barrett a.k.a.] Family Man, Junior Murvin — just a few of the musicians were present in the studio because some of the tracks, Tyrone Junior, they do backup as well.

Did the mood in those sessions, everything that was going on in Bob's life, etc, affect what you brought to the sessions?

Of course, because energy is so important. I can pick up energy easily, and sometimes you have good energy and you have bad energy. So the energy that was coming, it was so solid and positive that immediately you know that you are in it 100 percent. And whatever's coming out of you is 100 percent of yourself as well.

You also had a very prolific run with Bob Andy for many years. Can you tell me about that creative partnership?

All that started when Bob Andy and myself left Studio One in 1969 and we went to Harry J [Records]. Bob Andy and myself recorded that song "Really Together," and that was a really big song up until this day. It's one of the biggest dubs on soundsystem dub specials.

I think it was Bob’s idea to re-record the Nina Simone song, "Young Gifted and Black." Anywhere I perform today, I do that song on stage and it is fresh as ever. I perform that song with my son.

The song was No. 2 on the British charts and we had to go to England to do "Top of the Pops." And that was a whole new experience for both of us.

Being in England was like I was doing another life, because everything was just so familiar, and I was truly enjoying every moment of it. So we ended up recording another song called "Pied Piper" as a follow-up to "Young, Gifted and Black." 

How did you manage to negotiate for yourself as a young woman in an industry that doesn’t treat women or artists well?

That's a downfall we experienced in Jamaica especially, not knowing the business part and not having good management. Back then, we never had any manager to do the business part. And you cannot be a singer and a manager or a business person at the same time. One is definitely going to suffer. And it's a business. We would get caught in the fine print.

It’s much different now because we learn from our bad experiences. I communicate with almost every upcoming young woman in the business. It's one of my highlights to know that I was their inspiration. I share a lot with them so they don't fall in some of the holes that we fell in along the journey. 

But things are looking brighter. And nowadays, a lot of these sisters are knowledgeable of what's happening. And I'm truly thankful for that. 

It's wonderful that you are sharing your experience with other women who are looking up to you. As a female solo act in the '70s, did you feel supported? Was it tough to make your way as a serious artist?

By then I was gathering so much knowledge from traveling. In the '70s, I-Three were just totally involved with Bob Marley. If I'm going on the road with Bob, we’d go for months.

But at no time did I relinquish my solo career. In the decade of the '70s, I had two albums that were released: Naturally and Stepping out of Babylon. And sometimes they would demand that Bob Andy and myself [perform in] different parts of the world, especially in England. So that decade was between Bob and Marcia, Bob Marley and I-Three, and myself as a solo artist. 

I'd love to hear a bit about those solo records that you put out in the '70s. How did you differentiate what you were putting out as a solo artist from the work that you were doing with Bob Andy or with Bob Marley and the I-Threes?

It's much easier when I'm doing my solo thing, whether it's a recording or a performance. On  most of my recordings, I do the harmonies myself. And the engineer would love [that] because it's tighter, it's more precision. Everything is just locked in nicely.

Bob [Marley] was just so unique and so full of music that you can expect anything in a session with Bob. He was always surprising you with some ideas and unique sounds. It just amazed me. Sometimes you'd want to stop and say wow, but you don't want to make it so obvious.

With I-Three, it flows easy as well because we had a connection. I usually tell people that coming together with Judy, Rita and myself, was ordained by the Almighty God. It was never a mistake. At the time when we formed this group, I invited Judy and Rita to come and sing some back up for me at a three night performance in New Kingston. We did a little jam session on stage and the audience loved it. They said, "Why don't you girls form a group?" And we say, "Why not?"

That was the time that Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer — who are the original Wailers —  had a major fall-out. And Bob Marley heard that we formed a group and immediately he called us in to do "Natty Dread" and it went straight to No. 1. We became his three little birds. And we started there, right up until God called him and he passed.

Is there a recording that you don't speak about too often but strikes you deeply? 

The song that I wrote for Bob Marley, "He's a Legend," that was something very special for me. I hardly talk about it. But the song speaks for itself because every single word in that song is truth and reality. 

I remember going to someone's birthday and they requested for me to do that song for him. So I said, "That song was just written for one person, and I don't know if the person that you are asking me to do the song for is even worthy." It's not just singing words; it is meaningful that it has to be suitable for whoever I'm seeing the song for.

This song is saying, "Oh, what a blessing I received, to have been so privileged to share such wonderful moments with such a man." So everything that we are singing about and I wrote is things that I experienced, I'm not just writing nice lyrics or something that will make someone feel nice.

This is the same man who opened my eyes to know that the message in the songs are the most important thing, especially in reggae music. All these songs that he has done, we see in today's world and today's life that everything is manifesting. He was way ahead of his time. So "He's a Legend" was something that I experienced and it was straight from my heart.

I like hearing that display of integrity, because people think that songs are just songs or pop songs, but it’s so much deeper than that.

When I started work with Bobby and I realized, nothing came before his music; no money, nothing. So it was something else for me to go into a studio and to sing about folly, or things that are not really truth and reality.

Bunny Wailer wrote "Electric Boogie" because of the rhythm that I gave him. Bunny's also a great songwriter, like a Stevie Wonder, who writes about life and reality, but because of the kind of rhythm and the dance beat that he heard, that was a happy, fun song. 

Bob Marley himself was a versatile songwriter. He wrote about love, he wrote about life, people, lifestyle, wars and those things that is to come, and what was there that he was experiencing at the time. 

You sung some of the most enduring reggae love songs, like "Dreamland," "Truly" is the message of spreading love very important to you as a singer?

Of course! That is my life, because without love and truth, the world crumbles. From the moment a baby is born, and they hear music, they start moving their little bodies. Music touches the soul, which no doctor in the universe can do.

So for me, spreading love and joy to the world and to every mankind — especially to the sisters. A song like "Survival" is one of my favorite songs because it is relating to the sisters who are abused by men.

And I try to embrace my sisters because we are not just here as women to look after babies. Of course, we are mothers of creation, but some men see us as the household chores. Women are flying airplanes now and they're doing so many different things. So there's no limits to us.

So I just want to spread the love. I always tell people that I know I am the mother of love. And all I have to give to the world is love. And I try to do it through my music. 

In the past two months, two people that were very ill and were passing — one of them was from Canada and wanted to meet me before he died. And they flew him down to Jamaica and I met him. And just four days ago, my eldest son called me and he said that he has a friend and his father was passing and he asked that I just send a voice message to him.

Sometimes I see some young pregnant mothers, and for some reason they believe if I rest my hands on their tummy, their babies will be blessed. I'm blessed that people see me in that light, and I will just continue to touch souls and to do whatever I can do for mankind. 

There's no limit for me. I shall sing as long as I live.

Are you working on anything new? The last album you put out was in 2019, Timeless.

I started an album on the Penthouse label, which is where I've been recording. I've been there since '86 and that's how I came to do all these collaborations. I have 50 collaborations.

I'm completing an album. I have maybe about three tracks left, but I'm completing it by the end of August. I'm working with Clive Hunt and of course, Buju.

There's no energy like the youth. And I think that's one of the things that keeps me relevant over the years, that I interact with the younger generation. The last four shows I did were with Romaine Virgo, Grams, and it's beautiful. So I just try to maintain on that level.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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In The Lab With Scientist: 10 Of The Dub Reggae Innovator's Favorite Productions
Scientist (aka Hopeton Brown) performing in the United Kingdom in 2000

Photo: Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images


In The Lab With Scientist: 10 Of The Dub Reggae Innovator's Favorite Productions

Dub breathes new life into old material, says legendary engineer Scientist, who's touched many of the genre's biggest tunes. Ahead of his latest NYC show, spoke with the beats mastermind about some of his favorite projects.

GRAMMYs/Oct 27, 2022 - 04:25 pm

"I was the experimenter — the innovator," says Hopeton Overton Brown, the audio engineer more commonly known as Scientist. “The different ways of how to do things, the unknown, the crazy, the unheard of."

In the studio —  his lab, if you will — Scientist developed and iterated on the engineering, mixing and mastering techniques that would inform the sound of dub, an even bassier subgenre of reggae which uses the studio itself as an instrument. Dub records often repurposed, stretched and inverted existing vocals or riddims, creating distinctly new tunes which would lay the foundation for hip-hop and much contemporary electronic music.  

"Make no mistake about it: Dub music was the first electronic music," Scientist declares. "Dub mixes, they're more popular than the original track that it came from, and they have a longer lifespan. [Dub is] more relevant now than then, because of the computer age that we live in and the age group that keep latching onto it — [that’s] what I find makes it timeless."  

Scientist has touched many of those timeless tunes, having worked his way through most of Jamaica's major studios in the 1970s and 1980s. At just 16 years old, Scientist displayed a prodigious talent for working with and repairing electronics, and found himself in the studio of dub progenitor King Tubby. He eventually secured an apprenticeship and later replaced an "unreliable" engineer, thus beginning his journey as a pioneer behind the console. 

As the sound of reggae and dub evolved — and as Scientist's technical prowess developed — he began doing vocal and dub work at the legendary Studio One, Channel One and Tuff Gong studios. His imprint can be heard on tracks by top Jamaican artists like Freddy McGregor, Sugar Minott, Michigan & Smiley, Johnny Osborne, Yellowman and many others, as well as musicians Sly & Robbie and instrumental group Roots Radics. Often, he’d work on four to five songs a day for different artists, back to back.

While Scientist kept busy in the studio, "the dance hall was our test ground," he recalls. "We would watch how people react and we would listen to the quality of sound – which one sound thicker, which one sound heavier.  When we can hear bass vibrating and shaking the place… then [the musicians and producers] slowly start to adjust." 

Scientist's own albums — many of which have a space or horror theme, such as Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires — are beloved among dub collectors and occasionally subject to unlicensed reissues. Six such albums were the subject of litigation with UK imprint Greensleeves after Scientist alleged copyright infringement in the early 2000s. 

Yet Scientist remains particularly cool about his work. He alternately compares engineering to working as a cashier or in an airplane, where songs, like people, pass by in fleeting encounters. Creating the sound of Jamaica was simply a job, he contends. "I don't do it for me, I do it for the public. I do it for the atmosphere. I give each one the same treatment."

Scientist left the island in 1985, as the sounds of dub made way for dancehall. He landed in New York, engineering in a variety of studios before departing for California to work with Soul Syndicate and Michael Rose. Today, he mixes and engineers records for artists both in and outside of reggae — including a forthcoming Paul McCartney/Michael Jackson remix — and does live dub mixing at shows across the country.

Next up, the dub legend will return to New York for a Halloween performance, aptly titled Scientist Rids Brooklyn Of The Evil Vampires, where he'll set up a mixing console in the middle of the dancefloor and dub for singer Coolie Ranx. Ahead of the performance, Scientist looked back on some of his most memorable works.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Bob Marley - "Music Gonna Teach" (orig. 1971)

Bunny Wailer came to Channel One Studio with a Bob Marley tape, "Music Gonna Teach." He gone everywhere with it, and nobody didn't know how to get [the song] off [the tape]. Nobody didn't want to take a chance and handle that tape, because the tape was so old and brittle.

It took me hours. I put the white editing tape over the old tape so it would have some support. The two track machine at Channel One was down, so I was like, how the hell am I going to get this vocal off? So I was like, let me take this two track tape and put it on the 16-track recorder.

I just want to play it one time, getting it level, and have one shot to get the transfer to something else. [But] it’s not strong enough to rewind — if you try to rewind, it might break.

So you have to take time, cue up the tape, and then hit record on the four-track machine, then play on the 16 track machine. We only have that one window to get it right, anything else you won't know what will happen. Then after you run that out, then the recording musicians dub around Bob’s voice. I think it was the Roots Radics that played on that track — Bunny Wailer is not here to tell us anymore.

Barrington Levy – "Collie Weed" (1979)

I was self-taught. When I first was at Tubby's, I was just fixing [equipment]…. the original engineer that used to be there was very unreliable. I wanted to go to a real studio to see if the theory that I have in my head was correct, because I was thinking I could build a mixing console. [Eventually, I] become a trusted person.

And I’m telling Tubby, "Hey Tubby, I think I can do that." [He says] "no man, no man." I begged and begged and begged. "Nope, I'm not doing it." Eventually, he reluctantly let me [engineer] and guess what happened? It was a hit — No. 1.

In the early '70s, I went to Tubby’s to tell him about [an idea I had for] a console where the faders were moving by itself — [he had an] old time a dial board. We didn’t have computer technology like [we do] now. Microprocessors… all these programs, we didn't have that there [yet].[Tubby thought the automatic fader idea was a fantasy.] They were up there saying, "You’re crazy. Stop smoking that [weed]."

When I first was trying to get a band to use headphones, everybody laughed at me! I was at the studio but I already knew the problems that the monitors caused. Thirty years afterwards, all these things that I have been talking about come in.

Lone Ranger - M16 (1980)

I started working with Lone Ranger at Studio One. The people who played on that Lone Ranger record were the "gurus" at that time, but by then they were more willing to just let me do my thing and take recommendations.

If you listen to Willie Williams' "Armageddon Time" or Freddie McGregor at Studio One, they had very, very good musicians and composition, but what was lacking was the technical know-how that I came and developed. For example, the gospel that had been taught in the industry, worldwide, was you should always record flat without no equalization. And then I came to Studio One and changed that — I was the youngest one coming up with a different way of doing things. 

What they wanted was to record with guitar amplifiers, but I'm an electrical engineer who knows there is nothing special about the guitar amplifier. I started plugging directly into the console and not through the guitar. A lot of people did not want to do it…but even now, I don't use guitar amplifiers at shows.  

Michigan & Smiley – "Diseases" (1981)

[When I was engineering this song], the way I wanted to set up the snare drum, the drummer was reluctant. But after a couple records, everybody start getting more comfortable.

But [Roots Radics keyboardist and chief arranger] Steely in particular, Steely was the guy that made it gel. He would come up to the console, and he’s enjoying the mix and [saying] "yeah, yeah, that’s the right sound."

It was so much recording [with Roots Radics]. It was every day, we were coming to the studio; it's so many songs. If I was to hear the songs, I'd say "yep, that’s where it started right here — you hear the difference of the drum?"

If you listen to recordings of what came before and after that, you can hear — that is when people noticed, [and said] "we understand what's going on."

Yellowman and Fathead – "Funky Reggae Party" (1982)

One of his first records that I mixed, by Tubby's. Yellowman was just breaking out; he was in an orphanage home. He took himself somewhere — somebody who was abandoned to someone who was a worldwide known person.

This was six months to a year in between [when I recorded] one of his No. 1 songs, "I'm Getting Married." I mixed that whole record [his debut, Mister Yellowman].

Sugar Minott – "No Vacancy" (1983)

During this time, I had just left Tubby's and had gone to Channel One. Over at Channel One, they were used to a particular thing, and most people were not willing to make a change. But when the up-and-coming musicians came to record, they weren't into the politics — they were just happy to record.

So, all the young, no-name musicians, they end up getting better recording, because they were willing to take the technical advice I had and they just deal with music. So their recordings start sounding better than these so-called gurus.

Shaggy -  "Bullet Proof Buddy" (1994)

I used to work in Brooklyn — right off Flatbush, on Cortelyou, Bedford Avenue — we used to have a studio down there, that’s where I first met Shaggy. His manager was Carlton Livingston, I knew him from back in Jamaica. Then he introduced me to Shaggy. I never heard a voice like that.

I’d develop all the techniques to record vocals – by the time I come there to Brooklyn, I know exactly what to do with Shaggy. A lot of engineers, they over compress the vocals. [They use] the wrong microphone position. Even if I tell you the technical things, these circumstances [are] always changing based on the acoustics of the place, the singer, the environment, there's a bunch of different variables. The only thing I cannot teach you to do is how to hear.

So, you have to know how to hear and identify what sounds good. Using all that technique that I developed over time, I apply that to Shaggy and just about any artist that I work with now.

Khruangbin – "Cómo Te Quiero" (2018)

I find myself doing everything [else] more than reggae nowadays. Laura Lee, the bass player [of Khruangbin], said the dub music that I was making is what influenced her to do style playing bass. So, she got in touch with me through a record label in the UK. They send me the tapes, We negotiated a contract, and we went to work. they just send the tape, and said, "hey, do what you do best."

I did quite a few of them, and they released some on that album [2018’s Con Todo el Mundo], with the intention to release more later.

Sublime - Sublime Meets Scientist & Mad Professor Inna L.B.C. (2021)

The people who got me involved was also fans, they work at Universal Records, and we negotiated a fair contract.

When I see people cover other people's songs, or imitate other people, to me it's a compliment. Because if it was not good, they wouldn't want to get attached to it. And everybody have got some influence from somebody — like I have influence through Tubby, even though he didn't physically teach me anything, but I was influenced by him.

I'm doing it for Sublime fans. My personal feelings, they don't have to get attached to it. I'm going to give it the same love, like any other record.

Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson - "Say Say Say" (unreleased)

These people find me; I guess they probably heard about what I’m doing with other music and all that stuff. They approach me and you didn't need any lawyers to read that contract. It was just cut, dry, plain.

One of them is Michael Jackson's "Say Say Say" and [another track is] "Frank Sinatra Party."  They are different versions, A side [remix and a] B side [dub] mix using the techniques that I have developed. [Dub], in a way, breathes new life and brings back somebody that cannot speak from the dead.

I'm a fan of all good artists and all music. I like music that has nothing to do with reggae; music is music. [But] reggae is Mike Tyson and these other genres is Peewee Herman. [Laughs] So if you can fight Mike Tyson, then you know you don't have to worry about fighting Peewee Herman. You can just look at him and he tip over.

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Bob Marley Was A Palm Reader: 8 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Iconic Black Musicians


Bob Marley Was A Palm Reader: 8 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Iconic Black Musicians

Black artists have consistently influenced the course of music history, and many musical genres have roots in Black culture. Yet even some of the most influential, written-about musicians still have surprising backgrounds

GRAMMYs/Feb 18, 2022 - 08:57 pm

Music is a vital part of Black history, and the roots of jazz, pop, R&B, punk and soul (among many other genres) can be traced to Black musicians. Black artists have consistently charted and changed the course of music history, inspiring popular genres and musicians, while influencing long-lasting trends.

In the spirit of celebrating the Black roots of multiple genres, reveals lesser-known facts about influential Black musicians — many of whom put their stamp on projects that you may be surprised to learn about.

Muddy Waters Inspired The Rolling Stones’ Name

McKinley Morganfield — popularly known as Muddy Waters — influenced a generation of rock musicians, including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and many more. The American blues singer grew up on Stovall Plantation in Clarksdale, Miss. and began playing guitar and harmonica at a very young age. Waters was first recorded for the Library of Congress in 1941. After moving to Chicago, Muddy recorded his first songs for Aristocrat and Columbia Records in 1946.

Muddy Waters and his band were famous for their ability to make blues standards catchy and contemporary, as evidenced by songs such as “You Need Love,” “You Shook Me,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Got My Mojo Working,” and “Baby Please Don’t Go.”

Muddy toured England in 1958, and helped propel the resurgence of blues music in the country. His prolific lyricism inspired at least one group of British rockers: the Rolling Stones (originally the Blues Boys) allegedly took their name from Muddy’s 1950 hit “Rollin’ Stone.” Other groups followed, with Led Zeppelin covering “You Shook Me” and reworking Muddy’s “You Need Love” into “Whole Lotta Love.” AC/DC’s hit “You Shook Me All Night Long” is similarly inspired by Muddy’s 1962 song. 

Muddy won GRAMMY Awards for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording in 1972, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1979 and 1980.

Mamie Smith Was The First Black Woman To Make A Record

Also known as “the queen of blues,” Mamie Smith’s success was pivotal to the classic female blues era of the 1920s, which typically featured a singer accompanied by pianists or a small group of musicians. 

She was also the first female African-American performer to make a phonograph record. Okeh Records, the company Smith recorded for, received death threats for pressing records from a Black artist. Against all odds, the record became a commercial success and paved the way for all Black musicians to record. 

Smith recorded many tracks in 1920, which became her famous hits. In less than a year, “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here for You (If You Don’t Get It, ‘Tain’t No Fault of Mine)” sold more than a million copies. In 1994, “Crazy Blues” was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame.

Nina Simone Wrote “Mississippi Goddam” In Less Than 1 Hour

The provocative and insightful work of Nina Simone (born Eunice Kathleen) spans genres, touching classical, jazz, blues, folk, R&B, gospel and pop. A child prodigy, Simone was turned down from classical music school because she was Black — though she wasn’t deterred  from achieving her dream as a singer.

Simone’s career is marked for her refusal to be pigeonholed by style or subject matter. Among Simone’s many notable tracks are “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life,” “I Put a Spell on You, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free),” and “Feeling Good.”

Her 1964 Civil Rights anthem “Mississippi Goddam” took just 20 minutes to an hour to write — but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. (“Oh but this country is full of lies/ You’re all gonna die like flies/I don’t trust you anymore…Just give me my equality,” she sings.)

The song was later banned — some say it is because “goddam” was in the title; others argue that the subject matter was what caused the ban.

Frankie Knuckles Nearly Wasn’t The “Godfather” Of House Music

Francis Nicholls Jr. — or Frankie Knuckles to his fans — helped pioneer the development of house music as a DJ at Chicago nightclub the Warehouse. The term house music, as we understand today, originated as the music you would hear at the Warehouse.

Born in New York, Frankie spent much of the ‘70s DJing at nightclubs with his friend and longtime Paradise Lounge resident Larry Levan. Frankie’s first DJ residency was at New York’s legendary Continental Baths, an epicenter of gay culture and disco, in the early ‘70s. 

Frankie moved to Chicago with Levan in 1977 and began DJing at the Warehouse. Over the course of his five-year residency, Frankie was regarded as “The Godfather of House Music” due to his unique records and skillful mixes.

Yet Frankie wasn’t the first choice DJ for the Warehouse — Levan was. Larry declined the gig but recommended Frankie, and the rest is history. Frankie won the inaugural GRAMMY Award for Best Remixed Recording (Non-Classical) at the 40th annual GRAMMY Awards.

Marvin Gaye Spent His Early Years At Motown As A Drummer

Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., popularly known as Marvin Gaye, was influential to the R&B genre. As a musician and songwriter, his gifts helped put the Motown sound on the map and earned him the moniker “prince of Motown” and “prince of soul.”

Marvin Gaye spent his early years at Motown as a drummer for in-house band, the Funk Brothers. While you can hear Gaye’s resonant, iconic voice on dozens of Motown tunes, his drumming appears on songs for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Marvelettes and others.

Nile Rodgers Went from Chic to “Material Girl”

Guitarist Nile Rodgers began his career in New York, touring with the Sesame Street band. When Rodgers met bassist Bernard Edwards in 1970, they formed The Big Apple Band — which would later be renamed Chic. The group became one of few successful disco bands in a genre dominated by producers.

When Chic temporarily split, Rodgers became an in-demand (and multiple GRAMMY-winning) producer for the likes of David Bowe, Duran Duran, Mick Jagger and Grace Jones. Rodgers worked with Madonna as a producer and arranger on her Like A Virgin album, although he originally did not like the hook for its titular song. His 2013 collaboration with Daft Punk further set Rodgers apart as one of the most prolific Black artists of all time.

Rodgers also owns Sumthing Else MusicWorks, a music distribution company, which is prominent in the distribution of video game soundtracks.

Bob Marley Was A Palm Reader Before He Became A Singer

The man everyone knows as Bob Marley was born Robert Nesta Marley in St. Ann Parish, Jamaica. Marley began his professional career in 1963, releasing The Wailing Wailers two years later as the Wailers with Peter Tosh, and Neville O'Riley Livingston. The debut album featured the original, ska version of “One Love/People Get Ready,” which would later become a reggae hit. 

But before he became a musician, Marley was a palm reader. Marley began reading palms as a child and, according to his close friend and confidant Allan “Skill” Cole, most of his predictions came true (at least in part). The singer moved to Kingston’s Trench Town neighborhood, and stopped reading palms after he was introduced to Rastafarian way of life.

Ray Charles Broke Ground By Gaining Artistic Control

Ray Charles’ music spanned R&B, jazz and funk, and is regarded as a founding father of soul. He preferred that fellow musicians and friends call him “Brother Ray,” while others often referred him to as “the Genius.” 

Among Charles’s genius was demanding artistic control over his music and recordings. While he obtained creative license with several labels, including Atlantic Records, Charles penned a deal with ABC Records that gave him full control over his master recordings and those from his own Tangerine record label. The groundbreaking deal enabled Ray Charles to become one of very few artists afforded such freedoms, and coincided with the groundbreaking Modern Sounds in Country and Western albums (themselves barrier-breakers for the way they integrated country and pop music).

From Aretha Franklin To Public Enemy, Here's How Artists Have Amplified Social Justice Movements Through Music